The Ohio congressman was the only one of nine Democratic Party candidates to vote against the war in Iraq. His 90-day plan to end the occupation was dismissed by mainstream elements within the Democratic Party. Kucinich ultimately came in fourth in the primaries, despite Internet polls that had placed him second (behind Howard Dean, whom MoveOn.org chose first).
Three years and 2,500 American (as well as several hundred thousand Iraqi) casualties later, Kucinich is once again aiming for the nation's top job. This time around, the White House faces a Democratic majority in the Congress. What hasn't changed is the war in Iraq, and Kucinich is more relentless than ever about the urgency of withdrawing troops.
"My country calls me to action," he told a cheering audience as he announced his second bid on Dec. 12 in Cleveland. In this exclusive interview, I asked Kucinich what he meant.
Daniel Sturm: The Toledo Blade has called you a "diminutive Cleveland congressman" with a "giant-sized ego." How do you respond?
Dennis Kucinich: I'm not going to dignify this with a comment. You know, there's a war going on. People are losing their lives. And what are they doing? I would ask The Toledo Blade to join me in challenging this unjust war and to tell the people of Toledo that the war was based on lies. I would ask them to call for the troops to come home. They ought to be joining me.
I was right about this. And everything I've said has become mainstream. I'm not speaking from the margins. This is why I expect to be elected president of the United States. The media fought the war wholesale, and I didn't. I'm one of the few members of Congress who has consistently challenged the war and consistently voted against it.
Q: Two months ago, you were re-elected to the House. Now you're running for president. What made you change your mind?
Kucinich: We took back Congress on the issue of Iraq. But when we had our first caucus meeting after the break, some of our leaders hinted that they wanted to continue funding the war. I was kind of surprised by that. Then House majority leader, Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), spoke up in favor of continuing to fund the war.
To me, this represented a colossal mistake that needed to be challenged the only way one can challenge these kinds of things -- by running for president.
I led the effort in the House in 2002 in challenging the Bush administration's march toward war. I organized 125 Democrats to vote against the resolution that authorized Iraq wars. I may haven given hundreds of speeches in the Congress challenging the authorization for war, not only offering a plan to get out of Iraq but also challenging each and every appropriation of the war.
Q: Republican Sen. John McCain thinks withdrawing troops from Iraq would create chaos and breed terrorism at home. Is there any truth to that?
Kucinich: John McCain is a war hero. I respect him. He's a friend of mine. I was in Vietnam last year, where they have a prison where he was kept. But it's possible to be a war hero and also be wrong about the next war. The worst thing in the world is for us to send more troops to Iraq. More troops means more casualties. The war cannot be won militarily -- everyone knows that. So what in the world are we doing sending more troops? It's just antithetical.
And there's another dimension: the cost of the war. The economist Joseph Stiglitz has projected that the cost of the war will go up to $3 trillion. That's extraordinary. The White House's surge proposal is going to escalate the war, on top of the already huge cost. The American people will not accept this.
Q: You're a co-sponsor of House Resolution 4232, which would stop funding the war. What's the plan?
Kucinich: The basic path is recognizing that we appropriated $70 billion on Oct. 1. We're spending that money at a rate of about $8 billion per month. We should recognize that we have sufficient time right now to bring the troops home and also money to bring the troops home. We have sufficient money in the pipeline right now to help fund an international peacekeeping force and begin funding the process of reconciliation and reconstruction in Iraq. So if we know the war can't be won militarily, what in the world are we doing staying there?
Well, there's another dimension as well. If Congress votes to appropriate another $160 billion for Iraq in the spring, we'd essentially have given George W. Bush the money he needs to carry the war through the end of his term. That would bring the total war cost in 2007 to $230 billion. George Bush has been unequivocal about Iraq, and anyone who's missed this has not been paying attention. He has no intention of getting out of Iraq. He intends to keep our troops there until the end of his term. And that's a death sentence for a lot of Americans stationed over there.
Q: Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democrats in Congress "will not cut off funding for the troops." And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) dismissed your bill as "silly." In this type of climate, what are the chances of getting the bill passed?
Kucinich: Listen, I think that the American people, who spoke very clearly in November, will again have the final word on this. I'm the only Democratic candidate for presidency who's voted against every single appropriation for the war. A leader must not only have hindsight but also foresight. I've demonstrated an ability to be right that can't be matched by others in this presidential campaign.
Q: You say you're opposed to all wars. The U.S. operates more than 700 military bases in 130 countries. If you were elected president, would the role of these facilities change? And how so?
Kucinich: We live in an era where we need to act upon international cooperation. We cannot run the whole world as a world police. This is very dangerous. I'm talking to you on my cell phone in a plane right now that's flying to Europe. The world is interconnected. Policies of unilateralism are antiquated. They're a part of the 18th century. We're in the 21st century, and we should be pursuing the science of human relations.
I don't know if anyone else is saying this, but I'm going to give the American people a real hope that their children will be able to grow up in peace. I understand that terrorism is a factor. But I also remember that after 9/11 the American people discussed the need for reconciliation. One needs truth first and then reconciliation. I think we're capable of doing that.
Q: Some critics called you and Al Sharpton a "dog and pony show" during the 2004 primary campaign -- candidates who were tolerated by the Democrats but not taken seriously. You eventually endorsed the pro-war candidate John Kerry. How do you reconcile this?
Kucinich: I didn't endorse John Kerry's position on the war. As a matter of fact, at the same time the convention was going on I attended rallies challenging the war. I was never silent about my opposition to the war. I didn't agree with him on that, and I made it clear. I also expect Democrats who disagree with me to support me at the convention. That's the way it works. Whoever wins the nomination people will get behind.
If there had been the leadership in 2004, we could have been out of Iraq years ago. But now the people are ready, the message is ready and the candidate with that message is ready. This time, there will be a pro-peace candidate who the American people can rally behind.
Q: There's much hype about Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) running for president. So far, his public statements about Iraq have been vague. What do you think about him?
Kucinich: My position is going to be very clear when all the candidates are vetted. I am not only the only candidate who voted against the war, I am also the only candidate who voted against any appropriations for the war in Iraq. You cannot claim to be against the war when you've voted for appropriations. I'm in a singular position.
Q: Where are you flying to in Europe?
Kucinich: I'm going to London to meet with various leaders in England. But I'll be in Ohio during the campaign next year, speaking in Athens, Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus. As you know, Ohio is very important in this campaign.
DANIEL STURM is a German journalist who covers under-reported social and political topics in Europe and in the United States. He recently moved to Athens, Ohio, where a version of this interview first appeared in The Athens News alt weekly.